Tuesday, March 20, 2007


How I Walked into a School and Started Teaching on the Same Day

As a junior high school science teacher at a public school in Taichung City, my girlfriend is quite knowledgeable when it comes the local education scene. Thus we often spend hours and hours strategizing about how to maximize income in the local environment.

We've heard of one private junior/senior combined high school, Lizen 立人高中, in Dali, that apparently has a hot ESL program, just in the midst of a meteoric rise into the superstardom of Taichung's most famous ESL schools. (Isn't a meteoric rise paradoxical? Don't meteors generally tend to fall?) I decided to play my cards (after my trademark whining and procrastinating) and walk into Lizen High, resume in hand, and see what would come of it.

Soon, I was talking to the manager, a man from HK who spent more than 10 years in Western Canada. Thus, he knew, for example, the fame of UBC. Also, he knew that one other teacher who was already working at his school also previously taught at the same school that is on my resume. I guess his current teacher is pretty good, because a little while later, he mentioned that one of his teachers took the day off for a headache, and would I like to teach a few classes as a substitute.

And that's how I walked into a school and started teaching on the same day. Made about $30 CAD for 1.5 hours of teaching, but cost myself about $20 on an illegal-left-turn traffic ticket getting there! At least it's two steps forward and one step backward and not one step forward and two steps backward!

Sunday, March 18, 2007


Highway Dreams

The highway can take you to many different places. In Taiwan, this is certainly the case. There is strong investment here in something called artificial capital, seemingly without any understanding that perhaps an increase in artificial capital can create a decrease in natural capital. It is almost as if few people here realize that tourism is consumptive by nature.

Regardless of the nature of tourism and the decline of natural capital on this little island, I, the Strangelaowai, still know a good adventure when I see one.

Another Totally Awesome Scootercam, courtesy of the Strangelaowai!

Flat out of work and therefore low on cash, I hopped on my scooter and looked for a way out, beyond the language schools, beetlenut shops, internet cafes, 7-11s, traffic lights, pollution, neon; I looked for a way out, and the first place I went to was...

A likeness of the Virgin Mary stands solemnly in the courtyard of the Languages and Literature Building at Providence University, Shalu Town, Taichung County, Taiwan ROC (台灣省台中縣沙鹿鎮靜宜大學文學大樓1F).

...no, not a church, but rather, a university. Since I'm only going to get 3 hours/week from my current employer and since this isn't even enough to live on, I figured I might as well study Chinese in the mornings for the Alien Resident Certificate (ARC) and work on the side in the afternoons and evenings. Tuition can be paid for after 6 months by a full tuition scholarship awarded to the top 20 students.

However, my current work ARC permits me to work, but my boss isn't being entirely forthright about how few hours of work she's planning on giving me. This means she's not planning on finding many. Ever since I decided to stop teaching the kids, I've become more like an on-call teacher, only teaching when there's no way to give more hours to the children's teachers. In Taiwanese children's bushibans, it's all about the kids, and adult bushibans generally pay less, so it's hard to get out of teaching kids for at least half of your total hours.

Virgin Mary sez: "Strangelaowai, seek not Knowledge, for now is not the time. Seek a way out, go! Away from the University! You must first lose yourself before you find the truth."

I'm not one to argue with the Virgin Mary, so I guess that's a sign that studying Chinese isn't my way out, not right now.

I zoomed way out, passed the likeness of Virgin Mary, passed a few more gas stations, over a bridge and finally, I was suitably way out in Miaoli County 苗栗縣. I didn't find much at first, but I did find...

What Feeds Us

A Field of Growing Rice

Rice Plants, Up Close


What Fed Us

A Field of Dead Rice Plants, grown over with wildflowers and hardy weeds.

The riverbed, some 3.5 metres below, has eaten away at the long-dead rice field, probably out of use for over a year.

Wooden Behemoths

I enjoyed getting burnt by the sun in the middle of nowhere, wandered pointedly through the countryside on a weekday of work that consumed the general populace, until I passed through a tunnel, climbed up a hill and walked with wooden giants in Sanyi Town, Miaoli County 苗栗縣三義鎮.

The Strangelaowai stands beside giant wooden statues of fearsome mythical warriors.

Ornate wooden sculptures are a cottage industry in and around Sanyi Town; you can smell the unique fragrance of freshcut wood down highway 13, the main thoroughfare in Sanyi Town. There is also a Wooden Sculpture Museum 木雕博物館 which I didn't have time for. In any case, the behemoths above are the most impressive sculptures of the many outside the wooden sculpture shops which line the section of highway 13 in Sanyi Town.

Sanyi Township is also famous for something else...

Railroad Dreams

A gawdy tea and coffee shop sits on the historic Shenghsing railway station. Visitors are encouraged to have a seat and drink tea, or, if they are well-versed in the international culture of the day, coffee.

Here is a great example of artificial capital at the expense of natural capital. You are highly encouraged to have a seat and drink tea, or, if you are well-versed in the international culture of the day, coffee.

That's not to say that the Shenghsing Railway station isn't worth the visit.

Visitors can walk along the railroad tracks for a good distance in either direction.

"And I know I can walk along the tracks.
It may take a little longer
But I'll know how to find my way back."
Railroad Man, Eels

The sun shines through a gap between the slats of what looks like an original Shenghsing Railway station sign.

Tunnels can be found on either side of the station and visitors can walk through them safely.

Why did you have to wear red on March 15th, 2007, why? Don't you know that I'm working with a green and brown background? Fie!

A view from inside one of the tunnels.

The highway can take you to different places though, and before long, I found myself at ruins of a different kind.

The remains of a train bridge in Miaoli County on a disused rail line have been turned into a scenic tourist spot. (1)

The remains of a train bridge in Miaoli County. (2)

The remains of a train bridge in Miaoli County. (3)

You can climb up to the top of the righthand section of this structure. There is a path around the side.

The view from the top.

Artsy Shot!

Naturally, artificial capital would not be allowed to succumb to the forces of natural capital, so here stands the non-destroyed rail line across the river valley.

Access interdit

The pedestrian crossing across the river.

Of course, the hand symbol I'm using here is in accordance with the local tradition. In hindsight, though, perhaps I should have used the hand symbol on my shirt.

Saint Patrick's Day Special

I will take you on trips through Taiwan using the artificial capital of the island to get to the natural capital in order to fulfill your Highway Dreams. The party I went to on St. Patrick's Day certainly lines up very well with this goal.

A Canadian friend explained on his cell that he was at some guy's house on a mountain, although he wasn't entirely sure where this mountain was. I'm certainly up for that kind of challenge, so his friend gave me a few directions, and off I set, onto the county roads of Taichung County 台中縣.

My journey, best completed by car really, involved chasing off the semi-wild pack dogs at night before the temple, gunning it up and up a bumpy semi-paved road through an unholy mud puddle of indeterminate depth before finally making it up to my friend's friend's house, all in the dark, all on my trustworthy 8-year-old, 125 CC Yamaha scooter.

Rented by a American from San Francisco and his Taiwanese girlfriend, the huge house overlooked Taichung City and County from the remote perch of a local mountain. The nightview is pictured here.

If you're looking for escapists, you've probably found them here. Lacking the credentials to get a work ARC, most (but not all) of the hardy foreigners at this party were doing the HK, Thailand or Okinawa visa run every 30 days, zipping off and onto this island in accordance with the visitor's (not worker's) regulations of the local administration. It's a good life if you don't weaken.

The vegetarian host was serving up loads and loads of BBQ'd meat: chicken, pork, ribs, everything you could ask for.

An acquaintance from a training seminar with the company I worked for last year showed up; I hadn't seen him in years. Hammered on who knows what, he regalled me with dark tales from the gambling underworld. Scooterless and grabbing a ride back into the city with opportunistic girls, he forgot to take his bag with him back into the city, so it was up to me to dart back clear across the city to get him his bag back. Well what the heck, a with a couple more beers in the seat, might as well hang out and watch some DVDs and learn more about philosophy, his major.

Canadian friend phones up at 1 in the morning, and before long we're back out on the town, at Fubar, a suitable name for a bar. Talkin' low and well into the night, the three of us drank it up on Saint Patrick's night and turned in. For me, that meant zipping back yet again across town to my cozy little spot where the Justice Dragon was waiting patiently.

"It's special foreign holiday. Go! Enjoy it! Hang out with your friends," she implored before I departed, and enjoyed it I had...

...still out of work, though. Either I keep writing these blogs and get paid for it somehow...

...or I'll be out pounding the pavement, looking for a job that can fit my current plan, to return to Vancouver in June for the summer and get back to Taiwan in September. It's a good life, if you don't weaken. In the meantime, if nothing turns up for work, I'll be sure to head out on my baby hog and pound the highway, in pursuit of your Highway Dreams.

Check here first for more updates from the Strange Laowai.

Monday, March 12, 2007


Sun Moon Lake Revisited 日月潭又欣賞了

Looking down the center of a nine-storey pagoda near Sun Moon Lake, Nantou County, Taiwan.

The view from the top of a nine-storey pagoda near Sun Moon Lake, Nantou County, Taiwan.

Mt. Maolang, Sun Moon Lake, Nantou County, Taiwan ROC.

1020 Metres Above Sea Level.

Looking out at fields of black tea from a scooter at the Tea Research and Improvement Center, Mt. Maolang, Sun Moon Lake, Nantou County, Taiwan ROC.

Olive trees nearby the Tea Research and Improvement Center, Mt. Maolang, Sun Moon Lake, Nantou County, Taiwan ROC.

Live peacocks at the Peacock Garden near Sun Moon Lake, Nantou County, Taiwan ROC. How many can you count in this picture?

Sun Moon Lake, Nantou County, Taiwan ROC as seen from a Zen Buddhist temple.

This is the gift shop of a Zen Buddhist temple near Sun Moon Lake, Nantou County, Taiwan ROC. The surroundings are a Japanese-style garden of sorts.

A Drum Pavillion located beside a nine storey pagoda. The Zen Buddhist temple also had a Drum Pavillion very similar to the one pictured here.

This nine storey pagoda was ordered to be built by Chiang Kai-shek in memory of his mother. The top storey is exactly 1000 metres above sea level and can be reached by two spiral staircases inside the structure. There is a bell inside the top storey that can be rung by any casual visitor (myself, for example). It's just a matter of striking the bell with a fat wooden beam that hangs at the appropriate height from ropes attached to the ceiling.

Something's watching you. You are in danger.


Who is the only person in Taiwan who can float as a creepy cutout at the end of what appears to be a tunnel?

Chiang Kai-shek himself! And he doesn't float, as it turns out. The mainland Chinese tourists seem to have no interest in visiting him. That's okay. I'll keep him company. I'm sure it gets a little lonely up there. It's hard being so big and tall.

Crack down on that. Warn you.

Tuesday, March 06, 2007


You meet the most interesting people...

...when you travel, that's for sure. Like the man from Sierra Leone travelling on a Canadian passport departing from Toronto for Detroit, onwards to Narita and then onto Guangzhou. He had large gold rings on each hand, adorned with jewellry, black leather pants, stylin' shoes. In my mind I mistook him for a Detroit native.

After explaining that I teach English in Taiwan, he said...

"You're one of those Canadians who don't stay in Canada long."


"So why are you going to Guangzhou?"

"Buy some tings."

Or the American from Boston returning to Hiroshima environs on a Detroit-Osaka flight to continue heading up the F-18 flight simulators. With a Mel Gibson (think Maverick) swagger, he explained that he doesn't actually work for the US military; he's just a civilian contractor for the Marines. About the flight simulators he runs:

"It's like a 25-million-dollar Playstation!"

Or the Taipei car mechanic returning to Taipei from Osaka after a 5-day tour of Western Japan:

"Fixing cars is nice because of the schedule. I can go to Japan for five days and my boss doesn't complain."

Or the CEO I ran into on the plane to HK, who upon noticing the commencement of our bumpy landing, explained to me that China Airlines flights are always bumpy because most of their pilots are trained to do F-16 barrel rolls in the ROC air force.


"No good! No good!"

How about the ethnic Chinese guy who worked for the Albertan government and plays hockey for the HK hockey team. What's that? You didn't know Hong Kong had a hockey team?

Anyways, he's certainly more Canadian than I am, that's for sure. At a bar in Lan Kwai Fong, after the both of us completed testing for the Foreign Service with the Canadian Government in the Canadian Consulate overlooking Kowloon Bay:

"Well cheers! Let's hope both of us get a job. Maybe we'll be colleagues in the future!"

Or the two young Japanese girls from Fukuoka flying HK to Taipei on vacation.
Strangelaowai: "Taipei, for fun?"
Touristgirl: "Yes"
Strangelaowai: "Hong Kong, for fun?"
Touristgirl: "Yes"
Strangelaowai: "Did you go to China?"
Touristgirl: (full 20-second pause) No. You... Hong Kong... for fun?
Strangelaowai: "No, for test, for test."
Touristgirl: "Aah!"
Strangelaowai: (Writes some characters "外交部" and shows them) "Canada government waijiaobu test"
Touristgirl: "Aah!"

Yup, you sure do meet the most interesting people when you travel, that's for sure!


AgriCity 農市

One of the first things I noticed upon my arrival back in Taichung is the agricultural abundance that can be found right in the city. This cornfield is outlined by roads and alleys and takes an irregular triangular shape.

Before even noticing the corn stalks and various leafy vegetables that seem to take up any extra land space, you can even notice the farming roots in the people. The poor people in Taichung, in contrast with HK island and Kowloon, are often carrying vegetables or fruit of some sort. I presume they sell what they don't eat.

On HK island and in Kowloon, the poor people I saw are truly city poor, with nothing of the land to speak of.

Sunday, March 04, 2007


Heading Back to the ROC

Throwing up for 8 hours on a Sunday afternoon when I was supposed to be on a train to Beijing was a sign that I'm not ready for an unfamiliar environment at the moment.

Saturday, March 03, 2007


The Foreign Service Testing...

...went well on Friday, BTW. I got through the three gruelling tests from 9 am to 3:30 pm, and afterwards went for a few beers with a fellow test-taker. I think I did okay on the tests, but really now it's just a waiting game. It'll take at least six weeks to discover whether I am up for further consideration, and it won't be until the summer before I truly know if the department managers are at all interested in hiring me.

The competition is certainly stiff though. Over 12000 people applied this year, and apparently the recruitment is only for 100 positions (you can wish me good luck now!).

I'm guessing most of those 12000 applicants applied in Canada because there were only about 10 applicants who attended the HK test session. The location was actually quite nice, in a windowed room at the Canadian Consulate overlooking Kowloon Harbour.



...is a well-loved Asian tradition and can be found in South Korea, Japan, Taiwan, mainland China...

...and Hong Kong.


Trad Tidings to the Soon-to-be-Married

A friend of a friend of mine who is in the hotpot picture is getting married soon, so it behooves me to send out a special message of good cheer:

早生貴子! Best wishes for quickly fathering a son!


Hong Kong today, Beijing tomorrow?

I'm in HK now. I'm getting my Chinese visa tomorrow. Where I'll go I don't yet know. I grab the visa at 2 pm Sunday and try to grab a taxi fast enough to make it to the HongHai Station for a 3 pm train departure to Beijing. For those of you with no geographic knowledge of China and environs, lets just say that a train from HK to Beijing takes 24 hours.

If I can't catch that train, I'll take a bus to Xiamen, Fujian Province at 6:30 pm Sunday. Again, for the lack-of-Chinese-geographic-knowledge people, it takes about 9 hours on a bus to get to Xiamen, partially owing to the mountainous terrain.



There are many strange meats you can eat in Taiwan.

Deer is not one of them!

(Special thanks to Aunt T and Uncle S for preparing the "props"!)

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